Last weekend, spy chiefs and defense officials from around the world descended on Singapore to attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s biggest annual security conference. The U.S. delegation was led by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who asked for a bilateral meeting with China’s new defense minister, Li Shangfu. The request was denied, perhaps in part because Li has been sanctioned by Washington for his role in the purchase of military equipment from Moscow.
Over the course of the three-day summit, which I attended, Li and Austin didn’t speak with each other; they spoke at each other. In dueling speeches, Austin summoned the usual Washington buzzwords—a “free and open Indo-Pacific”—and made the point that talks with China were necessary, not a bargaining chip. When Li’s turn came, he responded with familiar Beijing-speak, criticizing Western hypocrisy and Washington’s growing security partnerships in Asia.
But while China shut the United States out, it welcomed talks with Europe. EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace all secured bilateral meetings with China’s Li.
The Singapore summit underscored how the U.S.-China relationship was different from that of Europe’s relationship with China, its biggest trading partner. But what is the substance of those differences, and will Beijing try to exploit them? For answers, FP’s Ravi Agrawal spoke to Cindy Yu, an assistant editor at the Spectator and the host of its Chinese Whispers podcast, and James Palmer, the writer of FP’s weekly China Brief newsletter. FP subscribers can watch the full discussion or read an edited and condensed transcript, exclusive to FP Insiders.
Watch Cindy Yu explain why the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act is the thorn in the side of U.S.-European unity on China policy.
FP’s James Palmer says the Biden administration’s shift to de-risking is intended to appease their European allies.
Assistant editor, The Spectator
Cindy Yu is an assistant editor of the Spectator and host of its Chinese Whispers podcast. She was brought up in Nanjing. She tweets at @CindyXiaodanYu
Deputy editor, Foreign Policy
James Palmer is a deputy editor at Foreign Policy and writes FP’s weekly China Brief newsletter. Palmer is the author of The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia and The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China. He won the Shiva Naipaul prize for travel writing in 2003.
Editor in chief, Foreign Policy
Ravi Agrawal is the editor in chief of Foreign Policy, the host of FP Live, and a regular world affairs analyst on TV and radio. Before joining FP in 2018, Agrawal worked at CNN for more than a decade in full-time roles spanning three continents, including as the network’s New Delhi bureau chief and correspondent. He is the author of India Connected: How the Smartphone Is Transforming the World’s Largest Democracy.